A fragile memory: turn of the century glass negatives from Providence Public Library’s Special Collections Department

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Photography Exhibition and Lectures

A fragile memory: turn of the century glass negatives from Providence Public Library’s Special Collections Department

Monday, June 1st – Saturday, June 27th 2009
Opening Reception June 1st, 6-8pm

Providence Public Library
Special Collections Exhibition Hall
150 Empire Street
Providence RI 02903

Over one thousand glass plate negatives have long lain forgotten in the Special Collections of the Providence Public Library. Now a select handful of them will be hand printed and revealed to the public eye, possibly for the very first time. The project was conceived and curated by Agata Michalowska and was brought to bear through a close collaboration with local photographers working out of the AS220 Paul Krot Community Darkrooms. Around two dozen plates will be printed and exhibited along with a selection of glass negatives. The plates represent a wide range of topics including portraits of wealthy Rhode Island families, interiors of textile factories, and landscapes of New England. These glass negatives constitute a cabinet of wonders and a glimpse of a world long past.

Michalowska, the Special Collections, and AS220 Darkrooms hope the editions will offer the community a valuable resource and that additionally, sales of the photographs, might help provide financially for the long term archival storage of these delicate plates.  An edition of the prints is also being donated to AS220’s Darkroom Program and a number of these will be part of the biennial Photo Lottery fundraiser returning to AS220 this May 30th.

During the opening reception, James DaMico and Richard Ring will lend their expertise to help us further imagine the stories these photographs quietly suggest. DaMico, the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Graphics Archivist, will talk about the technical development of photography with his presentation “Glass plate negatives: A Look at a 19th Century Photographic Innovation”.  DaMico will also discuss how Rhode Island photographers, both amateur and professional, were making use of the glass plate technology. Richard Ring, Providence’s Special Collections Librarian, will offer us an informed historical perspective on the city at the dawn of the twentieth century with his presentation, “The Beehive of Industry: Providence in the Late Victorian Era, 1890-1910”. The contemporary use of the glass plate technique will be presented by Paul Taylor, a Master Photogravure Plate Maker, Director of Renaissance Press and a instructor at Rhode Island School of Design. Taylor will exhibit glass negatives and prints that he made of New England landscapes. That evening additional artifacts of photography will be shown, including a turn of the century camera and a magic lantern together with glass slides.

AS220’s Paul Krot Community Darkrooms are the only public B&W facilities in Rhode Island.  Their mission includes accessibility for all artists, affordable space, and providing low and no-cost educational opportunities. The Special Collections department houses over 40,000 books, posters, pamphlets, photographs, broadsides, manuscripts, and other artifacts in an attempt to preserve, augment, and provide public access to these collections.

For more information about this free event, please contact:

Agata Michalowska
curator, “A fragile memory” project

Richard J. Ring
Special Collections Librarian


Teaching Experience

What’s in your stacks? An introduction to identifying and caring for your audio-visual materials

June 20, 2008, Aldrich House, Rhode Island Historical Society

Sponsored by the New England Archivists and the Rhode Island Historical Society

Within the last 150 years, we have witnessed an unprecedented technological revolution that has enriched the written word and added to the collective cultural memory. Beginning with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s invention of photography in 1826, Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877, the Lumiere brothers’ Cinématographe in 1895 and Valdemar Poulsen’s Telegraphone in 1900, society has been able to capture human emotion, history, tradition, cultural identity, and evidence of wrong doing and accomplishment in a richer, fuller way.

The development of civilizations has taken place because of the human need to document and preserve those documents for future generations to learn from. Unlike paper documents, which have a life expectancy of at least one hundred years, audio-visual material recorded on magnetic tape has approximately a fifty-year life span.

In this workshop, the archivist will learn how to, in hands on practice, identify audio and videotape formats, causes of decay and physical changes to the media. The storage and handling of tape, choices of reformatting, and resources to consult for further information will also be addressed.

Who should attend?

This workshop is for archivists who have little to no experience with audio-visual material and are looking for an introductory course.

What’s in your Stacks? An introduction to identifying and caring for your audio-visual materials PowerPoint presentation